Is Curcumin Curing Inflammation?

The Proven Properties of Curcumin That Reduce Inflammation

You've probably heard of curcumin in either its extract form or as part of the turmeric plant since it is growing in popularity. So why is curcumin becoming such a topic of conversation?

Sure, it can be made into a mean curry that delights the taste buds. But did you know that curcumin has a lot of highly-studied health benefits that have made it popular in certain parts of the world (like India and Thailand) for centuries?

Well, it does. One of the most well-studied benefits of curcumin - and the plant form turmeric - is that it is able to combat inflammation. While curcumin probably cannot cure whatever chronic health condition is causing the inflammation, it sure seems able to reduce the amount of inflammation a person might experience.

What, in particular, is there in curcumin that targets inflammation, and how does it work? Is there a certain property or set of properties that specifically target inflammation in the body? Read on to learn more about the proven properties of curcumin that help to reduce inflammatory responses.

How Curcumin is Used for Combatting Inflammation

Curcumin is an extract of the turmeric plant, a flowering plant scientifically referred to as Curcuma longa. This plant, which is related to ginger, is commonly found in India, Asia, and certain parts of Central America. Different cultures in these parts of the world have been using turmeric for centuries in order to treat a number of ailments, including inflammation.

Ayurvedic medicine (a holistic healing approach developed about 3,000 years ago in India) has long emphasized the use of turmeric and curcumin to treat conditions such as:

  • Cancer
  • Liver diseases
  • Gallbladder problems
  • Arthritis
  • Breathing problems
  • Skin issues
  • Chronic pain

Ayurvedic medicine is still pretty popular and, in fact, seems to be gaining a lot of ground in the Western world. That means the use of curcumin and turmeric are spreading.

But how exactly do people use curcumin and turmeric? Well, for starters, it can easily be added to an array of delicious foods and drinks as a taste enhancer. Ever try curry? Chances are that it was made with curcumin or turmeric in it.

Many Indian, Southeast Asian, and Central American dishes rely on curcurmin-infused curry to make them taste even better. It gets used in all types of dishes, including those that are meat or vegetable based. Not only does curcumin give these dishes an enhanced flavor, it creates a specific color that is supposed to be pleasing to the human eye.

Curcuminoids are the main active ingredient in curcumin, and these little yellow diarylheptanoids are what give curry its colorful appearance. Curcumin's rhizomes (the stems that sprawl out and grow underground) can be dried out and crafted into a variety of dietary products, like capsules, teas, extracts, tablets, or even skin pastes.

In all of its many formats, curcumin is said to be effective at treating inflammatory responses throughout the human body. While consuming it in your food is a great way to reap the benefits of curcumin's flavor enhancement, a lot of people choose to take it as a dietary supplement in capsule, extract, or tea format.

Finding the right format for you could be tricky since there is not a universal recommended dosage. Your best bet is to consult your doctor, nutritionist, or holistic care practitioner and ask for their opinion before you start taking curcumin as a way to reduce your inflammation. Note that there can be side effects to taking curcumin, which we will discuss after we get into the studies that have been done on curcumin and inflammation.

Curcumin Benefits and Studies for Inflammation

The benefits of curcumin are still being studied by scientists the world over. But, judging by what evidence we already have to go on, there is enough to suggest that curcumin works at reducing inflammation throughout the human body.

As B. Meng, J. Li, and H. Cao assert in their study, curcumin has powerful antioxidant properties. What are antioxidants, exactly? These are properties found in both natural and human-made substances that are able to stop cell damage. Inflammation is one of those things that causes cell damage and death since, when harmful free radicals enter the body, they can cause inflammation.

Meng, Li, and Cao note that curcumin might actually be able to prevent the manifestation of Types 1 and 2 diabetes. Diabetes is characterized by rampant inflammation, as are many autoimmune disorders. Therefore, if curcumin can work to reduce inflammation in those with diabetes, it is entirely possible that it could benefit people with diverse sources of inflammation.

In a rather extensive review conducted by Susan J. Hewlings and Douglas S. Kalman, curcumin's main mechanisms of action are listed as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Hewlings and Kalman note that studies have shown curcumin to influence the markers for oxidative stress, which is caused by free radicals and leads to cell damage and death.

Curcumin appears to boost the serum activity of superoxide dimutase (SOD) and other antioxidants. Also, akin to vitamin E, curcumin is a chain-breaking antioxidant since, as a lipophilic compound, it is able to seek and destroy peroxyl radicals with ease. It hunts down other types of free radicals as well and even inhibits certain enzymes that create these pesky free radicals.

With regard to inflammation, curcumin has been scientifically shown to stop inflammatory stimuli that prompt the activity of nuclear factor (NF)-kB. Of course, that is just one of the many ways that curcumin is known to stop inflammation, as it works on a number of different pathways in the body.

For years, scientists have been trying to figure out just how curcumin works and why it seems to be so effective at decreasing inflammatory responses. The first known record of curcumin being used to help treat illness dates from 1748. It wasn't until 1937 when the first article about its usage was published.

Back in the 1930's, a scientist named Oppenheimer started researching curcumin in relation to biliary diseases. He treated 67 patients with differing levels of cholecytisis with "curcunat" for three weeks and, over the course of three years or more, found that all but one of these patients were cured of their cholecytisis. What is even more surprising with regard to this study is that Oppenheimer did not note any negative side effects in his patients.

Curcumin Side Effects and Precautions for Inflammation

Speaking of side effects, it is important to know about the potential for experiencing them before you start taking any type of supplement. Your doctor or nutritionist should be equipped with the knowledge to help you out when it comes to learning more about curcumin and inflammation. They should certainly warn you about any possible side effects curcumin might cause.

For the most part, though, studies have found curcumin to be a relatively safe substance for most people to consume. A lot of the clinical trials conducted on human participants note that curcumin is nontoxic and is, for many people, tolerable to consume. About 8 grams per day of curcumin seemed to do the trick for patients with pancreatic cancer who were observed and treated in one recent study.

In addition to treating inflammation, curcumin has been shown to be both sfe and effective in treating alcohol intoxication, hepatic conditions, and chronic exposure to arsenic. Curcumin tends to get used alone or in conjunction with other substances (such as prednisone and quercetin) for these trials. In fact, there are so many clinical trials that have shown positive results using curcumin that it is hard to list them all.

So, why does curcumin work so well while still being safe for most people to consume? Scientists have been grappling with this loaded question for a while, but they are starting to come up with some clearer solutions. The answer, it seems, lies with ho curcumin interacts with molecules with multiple cell signaling capabilities.

Take, for example, pro-inflammatory cytokines. These bad boys have been linked to a number of inflammatory-based conditions, including various autoimmune diseases (like Hashimoto's thyroiditis and lupus). Interleukin-6 is just one of the many pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body, and it has been linked with causing inflammation in those with pancreatic cancer and type 2 diabetes. Curcumin, it seems, stops the actions of IL-6 in these conditions, thereby reducing the levels of inflammation these patients experience.

Curcumin seems really powerful, right? Well, there are some limits to just how therapeutically effective curcumin can be. For one, curcumin does not get easily absorbed into the blood stream, so its bioavailability is considerably limited. Second, a rapid metabolism could expel curcumin too quickly, rendering a dosage a lot less helpful. And, third, quick systemic elimination also cuts down on curcumin's efficacy.

Scientists have taken up the task of trying to make curcumin more bioavailable. The most well-used method for doing this involves blocking curcumin's metabolic pathway with adjuvants like piperine. While this method has not yet been perfected, scientists are well on their way to figuring out a way to make curcumin even more effective for people.

Of course, like just about anything you put into your body, curcumin can possibly cause some unwanted (and rather unpleasant) side effects. To further discuss the problems that could arise, we have to separate turmeric from curcumin and go over each of their side effects separately.

Turmeric Side Effects and Cautions

Let's talk about turmeric first. Turmeric has about 2% oxalate, which is an antinutrient that forms compounds which healthy individuals typically eliminate when they go to the bathroom. However, some with chronic health conditions cannot expel them as easily. This puts them at risk of developing kidney stones.

Also, while pure turmeric is generally safe, the powders that you see sold on many store shelves or online are not always pure. This is problematic. Some manufacturers will put unsafe (potentially even toxic) additive ingredients into their turmeric powders without adding these ingredients to the label. It is certainly something to watch out for while you are shopping around for turmeric products.

If you are someone with a gluten intolerance or with Celiac disease, beware! Some manufacturers add products like barley, cassava starch, wheat, or rye flour to their products. Also, since flour tends to dull down the color of turmeric, manufacturers will use food dyes to enhance their products' appearances. If you are allergic or sensitive to food dyes, this could cause you some serious symptom flare-ups.

Acid yellow 36 (also known as metanil yellow) is used most often in India. It has been scientifically shown to cause neurological disorders and cancer in animal subjects. It has not yet been tested on humans, and it is illegal to use acid yellow 36 in Europe and the United States.

Lead has also been found in some turmeric powders. This is especially dangerous since lead can cause serious damage to the human nervous system.

Otherwise, know that pure turmeric is generally safe for most people to take. Stick with the dosage recommended to you by your doctor or nutritionist, and you should not experience any serious side effects.

Curcumin Side Effects and Cautions

Now, as far as curcumin goes, these supplements are typically administered in dosage levels low enough to be considered safe for the majority of consumers. There is one study that found adults who took 490 mg of curcumin daily for one week experienced no side effects at all. There have even been other studies that asserted 1,200-2,100 mg of curcumin a day for 2-6 weeks did not cause any side effects to manifest.

Still, higher dosages of curcumin are not for everyone. There are some people who should take precautions when using curcumin to treat their inflammation. The most common side effects of curcumin are:

  • Skin rashes (when taking in excess of 8,000 mg of curcumin; this is probably the most rare side effect)
  • Digestive problems (when taking dosages over 1,000 mg, diarrhea, acid reflux, bloating, and gas may result)
  • Headaches and nausea (dosages of over 450 mg might cause these symptoms in a relatively small number of people)

Extremely high dosages taken for long periods of time are not recommended. Research shows that taking 1,170 mg per pound of body week for 13 weeks to two years could result in inflammation, an increase in the liver's size, and stomach ulcers. These results were noticed in lab rats and could apply to humans as well.

Taking lower doses of curcumin seems to really be key to reaping its benefits and avoiding its side effects. Again, it is crucial that you speak with a medical/health care professional before you start taking curcumin supplements.

Curcumin Research & Facts for Inflammation

To date, most of the research done on curcumin was conducted on individuals with certain chronic health conditions (many involving inflammatory responses). Why haven't as many healthy people been studied? Well, the reason is that the benefits are not as immediately obvious and would require studies to be done long-term. In those with chronic inflammation, the benefits of curcumin tend to become evident pretty quickly.

There have been some studies that show curcumin's impact on healthy adults. For example, one study demonstrated that a three-month supplementation regiment of curcumin and Boswellia serrata gum resin positively impacted markers for glycation, oxidative stress, and inflammation in 47 healthy male athletes.

Another study conducted on healthy adults (this time, these were not athletes) revealed that 400 mg curcumin dosages a day before and after undergoing an exercise routine to induce muscle soreness could decrease regular biological inflammation.

Yet another study on obese adults found that 1 gram per day of curcuminoids for 30 days then for a two-week washout period found that curcuminoids might've correlated with decreases in anxiety and depression. These otherwise-healthy individuals showed overall improved scores on both the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI).

In other words, while there are only a limited number of curcumin studies that have been done on healthy participants, those that were completed show its potential to decrease inflammation in those with no significant health problems. In particular, athletes might benefit from using curcumin as a way to reduce workout-related inflammatory responses.

Now, let us address a few more interesting facts related to curcumin and its healing potentiality. Inflammation can be a system-wide issue for many of us with chronic health conditions. That's why it is so crucial to note curcumin's effects on the brain, which, when inflamed, can cause a whole slew of life-interrupting issues.

Curcumin also seems to have an impact on the division and multiplication of neurons in the brain. A brain-derived neurofactor (BDNF) that works as a growth hormone propels this process along, but, when this hormone is too low in level, people can develop brain-related disorders ranging from Alzheimer's to depression. Curcumin has been shown to boost levels of BDNF, thereby possibly preventing or improving symptoms of these very complex brain disorders.

Not only can curcumin apparently combat Alzheimer's and depression, but it seems that curcumin might actually make you smarter! It could possibly improve your spatial memory, as a study by Muaz Belviran, Nilsel Okudan, Kismet Esra Nurullahoğlu Atalık, and Mehmet Öz demonstrates. This is likely due to the fact that curcumin lessens lipid perodixation in brain tissue, which could lead to better cognitive functioning.

Inflammation is also linked with a lot of other chronic conditions, such as heart disease, the worldwide leading cause of death. Curcumin seems capable of bettering the function of your body's endothelium, which is your blood vessels' lining.

When your endothelium is damaged, your blood clotting and blood pressure factors become impaired. In some studies, researchers found that curcumin is able to repair damaged endothelial matter, thereby improving its multiple functions. And this, of course, is theoretically able to prevent heart disease.

Finally, it is important to discuss the link between cancer-related inflammation and curcumin. Cancer and inflammation seem almost synonymous, so the fact that curcumin has slowed and possibly even prevented the growth of cancerous cells in lab rats is promising for the future of cancer treatment.

In Conclusion

Curcumin is a substance that has been used for hundreds of years to make food taste all the more delicious. It is also known for being a powerful Ayurvedic medicine. Today, people all over the world still enjoy the great taste that curcumin can add to a curry dish, but they are also reaping its many health benefits more and more.

Inflammation is something that each and every one of us experiences within our bodies. It is our bodies' way of responding to damage. But, sometimes, our bodies do not respond properly, and inflammation can become a serious issue.

Many doctors will try prescribing different anti-inflammatory medications, but they are not always that effective. That is why curcumin seems to hold so much promise for so many different people, from those with chronic health conditions to athletes looking to negate the woes of muscular inflammation post-workout.

A significant amount of evidence has been amassed over the years, showing that curcumin works on a number of different pathways in the body in order to reduce inflammation. Still, there have not been enough clinical trials done on human subjects to safely say that curcumin is truly effective at wiping out inflammation.

However, it is clear that curcumin has a role to play when it comes to relieving inflammation throughout the body. Studies sure do show this, but personal anecdotes from those who use curcumin even more strongly emphasize this point.

While curcumin might cause some side effects in certain individuals, it is a relatively safe substance to consume when taken in moderation. Remember, follow your doctor's advice regarding curcumin usage, but don't be afraid to bring it up at your next appointment. Curcumin could be just what you need to help you combat the aches and pains that inflammation can cause.

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Michael D

  • Wow what an article! Thanks for all the information! Thank you also for the follow!

  • I love Turmeric and it has really helped me with my inflammation, now part of my daily life 😀. Great post

  • Ditzydotcom says:

    I take turmeric daily. Even as a non medical nurse prescriber I believe completely in natural remedies and would rather take these than my prescribed meds (although I do both) as side effects so much less. As a medical society we prescribe and then prescribe extra for side effects. I believe the future of medicine is in the gut and if we can at least start with turmeric then we are moving in the right direction (although it is a backwards one)

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